Design No. 4 – The Great Eastern Egret Over Inle Lake

May 12, 2014 § 12 Comments

The fourth design for the Thailand Burma Flora Fauna series is complete! Today, I’d like to talk about the process behind the making-of this image, as well as share some photographs from Inle Lake, where the scene is set.

The Great Eastern Egret Over Inle Lake, 2014

The Great Eastern Egret Over Inle Lake, 2014

The Print – This print design features the Great Eastern Egret flying over Inle Lake (pronounced in-lay), located in Upper Burma. It is the last print to focus on a flying creature as a main character, and I’m already busy at work on the final four designs that star some pretty stellar and unique mammals.

The Characters – Inspired directly by my own experience, this design was cobbled together from my sketches, photographs, and memories of Inle Lake. The elements include a fisherman on his wooden boat, smoke rising from a burning fire high upon the mountain (upper left), fog and mist rolling between the mountains, a flock of egrets in the sky, fisherman and farmers’ houses on stilts among the floating gardens of Inle Lake, and a mountaintop monastery.

Working on a preparatory drawing for an earlier version of the design featuring light, cascading hills.

Working on a preparatory drawing for an earlier version featuring light, cascading hills.

Why an egret? – While varieties of egrets can be a common sight in the US (often seen along the coastlines of Oregon and California) I was struck by the elegance and majesty of these birds against the idyllic backdrop of Inle Lake. It’s no wonder herons have been a staple character in the canon of Japanese printmaking… The sight made an impression on me, and I felt that it was something that I wanted to remember and honor.

Great Eastern Egret, sunset. Inle Lake, Burma

Great Eastern Egret, sunset. Inle Lake, Burma

An fisherman pulls in his net from Inle Lake.

A fisherman pulls in his net from Inle Lake.

Everywhere we went in Burma was the ever present burning of fields, forests, grasslands, and brush debris. The air quality all around SE Asia is very poor because of this, and the unregulated pollution from vehicles and cities.

Everywhere we went in Burma was the ever present burning of fields, forests, grasslands, and brush debris. Because of this and the unregulated pollution from vehicles and cities, the air quality across SE Asia is very poor.

Asleep in a boat? No- just a bright sun shining off the water! The two men behind me have a boat filled to the brim with a load of mud they had dredged up from a canal off the lake. The canals between the floating gardens must be manually cleared out to keep up the depth and water flow.

Asleep? No, just a bright sun. The two men behind me have a boat filled with mud dredged up from the canal- an essential chore to keep the waterways around the lake flowing.

Egrets and Herons, Storks and Cranes – What’s the difference? – From what I have read, egrets are essentially a type of heron, but are in a different family from cranes and storks. They are smaller, more svelte, and fly with their heads in a “S” shape, rather than straight outwards like a crane. Egrets were once nearly hunted to extinction for their beautiful plumes, but the species has made a comeback.

Egret, Inle Lake.

An egret flying with its long neck and head tucked into an “S” shape.

The famous floating gardens of Inle lake are literally pieces of floating earth and vegetation staked into the shallow lake bed with tall bamboo poles.

The famous floating gardens of Inle lake are literally pieces of floating earth and vegetation staked into the shallow lake bed with tall bamboo poles.

Entire villages and towns exist here directly about the water. You can get much more “on the lake” than this.

Entire villages directly above the water. You can’t get much more “on the lake” than this.

Fisherman at dusk on Inle Lake.

Fisherman at dusk on Inle Lake.

What looks like my own personal nightmare is another man’s pleasure ride. Local Burmese folks are feeding a frenzied flock of seagulls to pass the time on a journey up the lake. If you look closely you can see the piece of food he is tossing up to the gull.

Seagull attack or pleasure ride? Local Burmese folks feeding a frenzied flock of seagulls to pass the time. Look closely and you can see the food being tossed up to the gull.

Beth as we pass a small village on the lake.

A photo of Beth as we pass a small village.

An egret cruising for food at dusk.

An egret looking for dinner at dusk.

Our longboat driver and guide on the day he and I were stuck out on the lake with engine trouble. Sorry, Mother Earth! This is what zero emissions-regulations looks like.

Our longboat driver on the day he and I were stuck out on the lake with engine trouble. Sorry, Mother Earth! This is what zero regulations on engine emissions looks like.

Buddhist pagodas on the lake.

Buddhist pagodas on the lake.

Passing local commuters on the lake.

Passing local commuters on the lake. (Nice photo, Beth!)

At In Dein monastery, there are many pagodas with thousands of wind chimes. The sound is quite lovely. I hiked up here alone and found the temple empty except a few dogs, a couple of men restoring crumbling bricks.

At In Dein monastery, there are many pagodas topped with thousands of wind chimes- the sound of which is quite lovely. I hiked up there alone and found the temple empty except for a few stray dogs and two men restoring crumbling bricks.

Hiroshige – This design was surprisingly challenging. I had hoped for a simple image of an egret set against light, cascading hills. However, it just wasn’t quite striking enough from across the room. So, I made upwards of forty (yes, forty) variations of this design to get it to feel just right, and finally settled on a dusk / dawn image with the hills in silhouette. 

While I was working out the kinks I looked to Hiroshige, an Edo period Japanese printmaker, to help point the way. I have always loved his prints, but after intensely studying his landscapes I have a newfound respect for his work.

During a workshop in Mae Sot, students JK and PD pour over books over the Japanese master printmakers Hiroshige and Hokusai before drawing thumbnail sketches for their own designs.

During a workshop in Mae Sot, students JK and PD pore over books of master printmakers Hiroshige and Hokusai before drawing sketches for their own designs.

Thank you! – Thank you for reading and for your continued support with this project!

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§ 12 Responses to Design No. 4 – The Great Eastern Egret Over Inle Lake

  • I like the head scarf :)

    • Mike Schultz Paintings says:

      Thanks! Kind of ridiculous, but we were the only non totally sunburned foreigners on the lake. We wrapped completely up during the day like hipster-mummies, and slowly unraveled as the sun began to set.

  • deborah says:

    your photos and the egret print are all stunning = I loved seeing how you blended elements from the photos into this print –

    • Mike Schultz Paintings says:

      Thank you so much, Deb! I appreciate the comment. It was a fun image to compose, and took a lot of reworking.

  • Liza Paizis says:

    It is a stunning print Mike!

    • Mike Schultz Paintings says:

      Thank you so much, Liza! I always appreciate hearing from you, and hope that art making is treating you well.

  • jackbaumgartner says:

    Great design, Mikey, and a really enjoyable set of photos. I love those amazing long boats, and especially the fisherman perched on the very tip of the bow with his net.

    • Mike Schultz Paintings says:

      Thank you for the kind words! Those characters and their longboats are quite a sight to behold. The way that they paddle with one leg looks a bit like a gentle ballet while they do it. Thanks again for all of your help, thoughts and insight while troubleshooting this image.

  • Dalo 2013 says:

    Brilliant work ~ there is nothing quite like Inle Lake (or Myanmar for that matter). Beautiful.

    • Mike Schultz Paintings says:

      Thanks, I appreciate that. It’s one of my favorite places I’ve ever been. Glad to have seen it now as it is going to go through a tremendous change in the years to come. Where all did you go in Burma?

      • Dalo 2013 says:

        It is going through great changes, and like everyone I hope the changes in the people/culture are minimal. We did the Bagan, Kalaw, Pinday and Inle Lake (where we extended our stay again) so we could hit Mt. Kyaiktiyo on New Year’s Eve before flying out of Yangon. Magical time :-)

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